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Mwanawasa's widow heckled at Zambian state funeral

CONDOLENCES: President Robert Mugabe greets Zambia's First Lady Maureen Mwanawasa after paying his last respects to late President Levy Mwanawasa during the body viewing at State House in Lusaka on September 2, 2008

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AFRICAN leaders bade a final farewell on Wednesday to late Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa at a state funeral in Lusaka at which his widow was heckled and jeered by mourners.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, who took over from Mwanawasa as chairman of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), praised his predecessor in a speech to the 5,000 mourners.

"He was a true African who believed in an African solution to various challenges the continent is facing," Mbeki said.

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, who holds the presidency of the African Union, also paid tribute to Mwanawasa as a "visionary leader (who) worked tirelessly to promote human rights and democracy in Africa.

"He always spoke his mind," Kikwete told the packed funeral service at a Baptist church in Lusaka.

But the crowd of mourners at the state funeral jeered and heckled Mwanawasa's widow Maureen when she spoke of her husband.

"Mr president, you were a jewel for Africa. Your enemies have now become my enemies," she said.

The controversial first lady caused uproar inside the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) recently by declaring that Finance Minister Mandu Magandi should succeed her husband rather than current vice-president Rupiah Banda.

Banda is acting president ahead of elections to chose Mwanawasa's successor, expected in November.

Some members of the ruling party have called on the first lady, widely seen as a power behind the throne, to consider standing for election herself.

Fifteen candidates from the MMD have officially lodged their candidacy for the presidential elections, which under the constitution must be held within 90 days of the president's death.

Last week, she was slated after she chased away Zambian opposition leader Michael Sata from a mourning gathering for her husband.

Sata denied reports that he had been provocative to Maureen, who was taking the body on a tour of the country ahead of a state funeral.

"I said to her: 'I'm very sorry,' then she blew up," Sata said.

Sata accused her of using the funereal tour as a bid for her to stand for president in three months time.

"It is her who has turned the whole funeral into politics," Sata told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme, adding that a widow should stay at home to mourn not tour the country.

"My party will participate in the elections, there's nothing politicking about that - but she must also come out in the open instead of hiding in a dead man, instead of exhibiting a dead man all over the country."

Mwanawasa won praise as one of the first African leaders to publicly criticize Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe for his country's spiralling political crisis and worsening economic meltdown.

On Wednesday, Mugabe and his rival opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai put aside their differences to attend Mwanawasa's funeral with more than a dozen African heads of state as well as envoys from the United States and Britain.

Arriving in Lusaka on Tuesday, Mugabe paid tribute to the late Zambian president -- who once referred to Zimbabwe's economy as a "sinking Titanic" -- calling him a frank and courageous leader.

Among the other African leaders present were Presidents Ian Khama of Botswana, Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo and John Kufour of Ghana.

Former colonial power Britain sent a delegation led by Foreign Office minister of state, Lord Malloch Brown, who has responsibility for African affairs. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer represented the United States.

Praised for keeping a lid on Zambia's inflation prone economy, Mwanawasa never recovered from a stroke in June, his second in little over two years and died in a Paris hospital on August 19.

He was laid to rest at Embassy Park near the presidential offices following the service. - AFP

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